Cafes are at the heart of Buenos Aires’ cultural and traditional identity. The old school “notables,” the classic Porteño bars and coffee shops, were once the epicenters of the city’s cultural happenings. Their architecture and design, along with their graceful, nostalgia inducing atmosphere, have granted these cafeterias a place in the heart of many. Indeed, they provide the perfect spot to savor a fresh cup of coffee, one might think – until you taste what they are serving. Stale, burnt and tepidly disappointing.
How can such beautiful places serve such horrible coffee? More importantly, what do I have to do to get a decent cup of joe in this place?
Luckily for the coffee fanatics among us, a new type of cafe has been emerging in Buenos Aires over the past few years. Better known as specialty coffee shops, these spots focus on the quality of their end product and strive to offer the finest overall experience in the process.
We’ve been drinking…
A whole lot of coffee has been consumed over the past few weeks. All in the name of research of course, along with eating a considerable amount of desserts and talking shop with some of the city’s more notable coffee connoisseurs. Now it’s time for us to share the conclusions of our exhaustive and rocket-fueled investigation with you – the undercaffeinated masses.
Before we get down to business, let’s go over the criteria we used for building our Top 5. First, we evaluated the product – its flavor and intensity, along with how it was made – none of the cafes we mention serve cortados, for the record. Then, we considered the staff, how they receive customers and their willingness to guide us through the concept of their cafe and the variety of products they offer. Staff explanations were key in our final call. Were they able to break down what the difference is between a cappuccino and a flat ,white was for example. Finally, we had to factor in the pastries they were pairing with what they were pouring. Because again – research.
Lattente – Thames 1891, Palermo
Lattente’s slogan says it all: “Aqui el café no es Joda” (“Coffee isn’t a joke here”). No Wifi, no newspapers, no comfy couches. Lattente is all about the coffee. Daniel and Zehan, Lattente’s co-founders, are true pioneers in the Buenos Aires coffee scene. They opened the doors of their small but cozy coffeehouse about three years ago and have been spreading coffee love and knowledge ever since. Earlier this year, a smaller branch was opened at the Plaza Italia station on Subte D, making their magic available for underground riders on their way to work. The beans they usually work with come from small coffee farms in the heart of Colombia. Recently, a special Costa Rican bean made it into the lines too.
Lattente’s baristas have been awarded top prizes at both local and international competitions, proving they know their stuff. All the fawning and accolades haven’t gone to their heads, though: they continue to greet the non-anointed among us with a smile and a perceivable level of customer service. That is probably what we love most about Lattente: the onda. Additionally, they aren’t doing so bad in the sweets department. Katina Kefalas’ acclaimed cookies (if you don’t know what we are talking about, drop whatever it is you’re doing and go get one) share the shelves with Cannoli de Palermo’s amazing pistachio and almond fustucas.
LAB. Tostadores de café – Humboldt 1542, Palermo
A full sensory coffee experience. Lab brings together sophisticated equipment and notable passion and skill from a top-notch team of baristas. This goes way beyond simply pressing a button on a machine. Plop yourself down in front of the set of gadgets that could easily pass for the NASA command center, and witness an act that is nothing short of caffeinated alchemy. Lab works with four different varieties of coffee, each worth trying, with an even larger selection of brewing methods.
Lab’s relationship with their coffee starts earlier than most coffeehouses, as they roast their coffee beans themselves, which is cool but – why does that matter? According to people who make careers out of this sort of thing, roasting the beans is the step that has the biggest impact on the final product. This has granted Lab some major recognition from its peers, with many other coffeehouses around the city working with Lab’s beans.
One of the things we like the most about this java laboratory is the fact that it is also a place to learn. Lab’s team offers workshops all year long, helping the coffee culture spread. If you’re not keen on workshops, go ahead and ask questions on the spot. The baristas will be more than willing to guide you through the coffee making process – except during rush hours, for obvious reasons.
Last but not least, Lab is where BA’s most delicious cookies were invented. Chocolate chip or raspberry white chocolate, just pick one, you won’t regret it. Katina (mentioned above) is the genius baker behind these delicious treats and just so happens to be one of Lab’s most talented baristas. That’s right: a pastry chef-slash-barista created not one, but two, custom cookie recipes and single-handedly defeated the afternoon slump.
Felix Felicis – Cabrera 5002, Palermo
Felix is the latest addition to the Palermo Specialty Coffee crew. In a few brief months it’s become a local reference for seriously good coffee in the city. The team, headed by Colombian barista Natalia Montoya, is highly skilled and always available to answer coffee-related inquiries. Felix works with blends from Lattente and Lab: basically the best in town. Their flat white is without a doubt one of the best things on this list. Plus, it is served in a larger cup than the competition, proving the Felix squad understands our caffeine needs.
Nestled on the corner of Serrano and Cabrera, with big windows and a ton of wood, this place is light and cozy. It’s a perfectly quiet and comfy place for working a few hours while enjoying some rocklets, or orange cookies (Katina’s once again). We highly recommend stopping by for a pastrami sandwich on a Saturday and kill the rest of the afternoon over a Latte.
Negro Cueva de Café – Suipacha 637, Microcentro
Negro is a coffee oasis hidden right in the middle of the hustle and bustle of microcentro. Walk through the door, get comfortable in one of the back tables (if you’re working), or grab a stool at the bar if you’re looking for a short coffee break. The industrial style decor is surprisingly warm and makes you want to stick around for a while. Order your favorite specialty, pick a size – yes, they have different sizes – God options feel good – and grab a blueberry muffin on the side. If you’re in a rush simply order a cup at their little front takeout window.
Special points given for their cute and quirky message board for putting a smile on your face before you even walk in.
All Saints – Ciudad de la Paz 2300, Belgrano
Good news for Belgrano locals. There is finally a place for you to get a beyond decent cup of coffee. All Saints has something of a Starbucks-like atmosphere (but in a good way mostly). Old school comfy couches, branded mugs for sale, your name written on your cup, Small, Medium and Large sizes… But that’s where the Starbucks comparison ends. The coffee these guys serve has nothing to do with what you’ll find at the bigger coffee shop chains. One of their coffee varieties is even organic, as are some of their pastries. A second counter displays all kind of brewing artifacts. But they’re not just there to show off, don’t be afraid and ask for a filtered coffee. Pick your favorite brewing method and let them help you choose the best coffee to go with it. It’s also an deal place to work from: their Wifi connection works just right and there’s plenty of space to spread out and get productive.
There you have it. The top 5 places to get our daily coffee fix. Go forth and get caffeinated, fellow weekday warriors.